Elizabeth Ross Bare, an accomplished public school teacher and attorney who achieved the rank of Bronze Life Master from the American Contract Bridge League, passed away Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in her hometown of Concord, NC. She was 75.
Her family, friends and colleagues knew her as Betsy. From classrooms to courtrooms to bridge games, Betsy touched thousands of lives across North Carolina. Betsy grew up a beauty queen and the smartest person in the room in an era where the latter was not always an advantageous trait for young women. With brainpower and charisma, she ultimately burst through barriers to take on leadership roles in the male dominated cultures of law enforcement and local criminal courts.
Betsy loved children and animals. Over time, she grew less and less enchanted with grown-ups. Betsy chose to live in the moment and sought out happiness without apology, whether through daily dosages of ice cream and cake or the British and Australian cable shows she watched in bulk. Throughout her life, she was fanatical about protecting her skin from the sun and loyal to Dutch Tulips as the shade of color for her toenails.
Betsy demonstrated unusual resilience. Over the past decade, she privately fought multiple chronic diseases and experienced constant pain from deteriorating discs. Twice she overcame breast cancer. Through all of this, she kept her health challenges private and brought a smile and laughter to every encounter. Betsy’s mind remained sharp. Determined to avoid dementia, she worked crossword puzzles and word jumbles and watched Jeopardy daily.
In her most recent illness, what doctors described as a “mild” case of COVID-19, turned deadly in a 24-period as the coronavirus attacked her lungs. Seeking a remedy, Betsy participated in a national experiment testing convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19. As Betsy approached the end of her life, she was comforted by conversations with her husband, John Bare, and her daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth Warren-Mikes and Brian Mikes, and granddaughters Caroline and Anna Adair.
The family will gather for a private burial at Concord’s Oakwood Cemetery, where Betsy will be buried alongside her mother. The family will host a memorial service and celebration of Betsy’s life at a later date.
Growing Up in Concord
Born Oct. 15, 1944, to Thomas Lee Ross, Jr., and Jane Capus Ivey in Charlotte’s Memorial Hospital, Betsy grew up in Concord. Her father was president of Cabarrus Bank & Trust, located on Concord’s downtown street of shops and offices. Betsy told stories of how much she liked visiting her father’s office and stopping by the shoe store, a few doors down. At the shoe store, which was owned by a member of her mother’s extended family, she could use a type of X-ray device – a shoe-fitting fluoroscope – to view the bones in her feet.
As a child, Betsy benefited from the attention from her father’s sister, Elizabeth Ross. Betsy’s Aunt Lib would take her on trips to NY and Europe to experience world-class music and art. Throughout her life, the great works of art in Rome, Florence and Paris inspired and moved Betsy. She carefully selected colors and artwork for her home, picking multiple shades of yellow and gold and lavender that would brighten daily life. Her art collection includes paintings, drawings and ceramic work from local artists and a mix of modern and classical prints that made her smile. Her most recent featured piece, which Betsy installed in her bedroom so she could see it every day, is a painting by her niece, the artist Adelle Patten. Just as Betsy’s Aunt Lib had cared for her, Betsy doted on and cared for Adelle, Hannah Ross and William Patten, Betsy’s triplet nieces and nephew. At Betsy’s instruction, one of the first songs the triplets learned was “A Bushel and a Peck,” and Betsy and the children used the lyric, I love you and bushel and a peck, as a shared, personal greeting throughout Betsy’s life.
At Concord High School (Class of 1962), Betsy formed what would be enduring friendships with a group of women who supported her through the rest of her life. In recent years, these self-declared Sunset Sisters took annual trips and spent time looking after one another as members experienced family loss and illness. During this period, in 1962, Betsy was 1 of 4 young women from Concord presented at debutante balls in Shelby and Raleigh.
St. Mary’s and Chapel Hill
At St. Mary’s Jr. College (Class of 1964), Betsy was a member of the Cold Cuts, a student washtub band that performed in overalls with jugs and string instruments. In fact, Betsy was proficient on the piano. In her later years, her husband would understand she was having a good day when he heard her in the living room playing her favorite hymns or carols. Betsy was an enthusiastic if not accomplished singer always ready to join a show or karaoke performance. Her karaoke go-to song was the Waylon Jennings hit, “Amanda.”
In one of her last conversations with her husband, Betsy sang to John, Jerusalem! Jerusalem!, lyrics from “The Holy City,” and I’m going there to meet my mother / She said she’d meet me when I come, lyrics from the folk song “Wayfaring Stranger,” known in the 19th century as the “Libby Prison Hymn.” As her diseases intensified, Betsy increasingly turned to music for spiritual and physical relief. Like her father, she was an audiophile who loved the latest music technology, and she played her music at the highest volume settings.
Betsy graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in English education. As a student, she worked on Franklin Street as a salesclerk for Town & Campus clothing store and developed life-long loves for the town of Chapel Hill and for competitive bridge.
On Saturday, Nov. 21, 1964, The Daily Tar Heel newspaper carried a photo of Betsy on Page 1 of its special “Beat Dook” edition, “The biggest Carolina football game of the season was officially kicked off yesterday with the annual Pi Kappa Alpha ‘Beat Dook’ Parade. Betsy Ross, a junior from Concord, as queen of the festivities reigned over the celebration as it marched from Woolen Gym down Franklin Street.”
Teaching and Motherhood
In June 1965, Betsy married Dan Warren III of Snow Hill at a church ceremony in her hometown. Her husband entered dental school that fall. The couple lived in Chapel Hill, including a stint in the University’s old married student housing complex. During this time, Betsy taught in the Chapel Hill and Chatham County schools. Reflecting her own love of reading, Betsy devoted her education career to helping every child learn to read. With her childhood marked by her mother’s long-term battle with cancer, Betsy told stories of hiding away upstairs and transporting herself to faraway places by reading book after book.
In 1969, Betsy gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth Leslie Warren, named for Betsy’s beloved Aunt Lib. With her husband and daughter, Betsy lived briefly in Puerto Rico as part of Dan’s military service. Betsy earned a master’s degree in reading instruction from UNC in 1972, further refining her role as a specialist devoted to unlocking reading skills for all children.
The couple moved to Greenville, NC, in 1973, as Dan set up a dental practice. In Greenville, Betsy taught in the city schools and was named Outstanding Young Educator in 1975. She wrote the diagnostic manual for Greenville reading programs, supervised reading teachers and created for the first time specialized reading programs targeting children with special needs. Betsy earned master’s degree in educational supervision and administration from East Carolina University in 1978.
A New Career in the Law
After Betsy and Dan were divorced, she left teaching to enter law school at Wake Forest. She clerked for a Greenville firm in summers of 1979 and 1980. At Wake Forest School of Law (Class of 1981), Betsy was president of the Student Bar Association, recipient of the NC Academy of Trial Lawyers’ Award and the Book Award in Law and Forensic Medicine. She worked as teaching assistant for Professor Kenneth Zick and served as the law school’s representative at the ABA-Student Law Division National Conference in San Francisco.
Upon graduation from Wake Forest Law School, Betsy worked for a Greenville law firm for two years before becoming an Assistant District Attorney, serving under the elected D.A., Thomas Haigwood. Betsy held that position from 1983 to 1993. She was a member of the NC State Bar and the Federal Court, Eastern District of NC Bar.
As an Assistant District Attorney, Betsy specialized in felony trial preparation. In the days before desktop computer design, Betsy took great pride in creating her own color-coded and labeling systems to organize criminal files and would arrive early to work and stay late in order to perfect the approach. In District Court, where NC adjudicates misdemeanor offenses, Betsy was a fierce and clever prosecutor. Often as the only woman in an old-boy network of defense attorneys and judges, Betsy summed up the general nature of District Court offenses as “the failure to do right.” On one occasion, when a couple swore out cross-complaints of assault, Betsy successfully convicted the man of assaulting his partner, then had the couple switch seats in the courtroom she successfully convicted the woman for assaulting the man.
Betsy was a constant champion for children. She led enforcement of obscure aspects of child-care law, both civil and criminal, that arise when the father lives in a different state and is required to pay child support in NC. Betsy was a frequent speaker and panelist at professional conferences and served as an Instructor for Legal Research courses at Pitt Community College. A gregarious people person in every undertaking, Betsy’s courtroom relationships put her on a first-name basis with all of the cops and State Bureau of Investigative officers in Greenville and with most of the local criminals.
A New Family & New Professional Positions in Raleigh and Charlotte
In 1988, Betsy met a local newspaper reporter, John Bare, and began a relationship that would lead to a wedding on Halloween Day 1992 in the fellowship hall at Concord’s First Presbyterian Church. The couple remained married through the rest of Betsy’s life. They were practiced at long-distance relationships. At Betsy’s urging, John began graduate school in Chapel Hill in 1989. The couple lived and played in both towns until 1993, when Betsy secured a position with Attorney General Mike Easley’s NC Justice Department. Betsy and John combined households at a new residence in Cary.
Betsy worked as an Associate Attorney General in the newly created Citizens’ Rights Division, providing support to victims, improving juvenile court, and addressing elder abuse, hate crimes and domestic violence. In this role, Betsy drafted new legislation for the Juvenile Code and for Drug Courts for the General Assembly’s 1994 Extraordinary Session on Crime, the 1995 Session and the 1996 2nd Extraordinary Session on Crime. She developed and led the Safe Neighborhoods Initiative, which championed community policing. She spoke to community groups and police training units throughout the state. Betsy developed a program for Crisis Intervention Teams to mediate school violence issues. She was among the early innovators for diversion programs and helped children and families receive supportive services in lieu of entering the criminal system. Betsy was among a group of leaders recognized by the White House in 1995 for use of Drug Courts, favoring treatment over punishment.
In 1997, Betsy and John underwent another set of professional transitions. Betsy left the Attorney General’s office to join the juvenile court team in the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s office, at the time led by DA Peter Gilchrist. The move allowed Betsy to return to her childhood home, Concord. Having completed his Ph.D., John took a position with a charitable foundation in Miami. Betsy’s 1998 breast cancer surgery and treatment disrupted the couple’s plans to spend time in both Miami and Concord.
In the years after overcoming breast cancer, the stress of daily prosecutorial work, especially in the emotionally charged juvenile court setting, proved too much for Betsy. First taking disability leave and then transitioning to a service retirement, Betsy left legal work in 2004. John moved to a new job in Atlanta, which provided for more time with Betsy in Concord.
New Adventures and Bronze Life Master Recognition
Betsy, for the first time in her adult life, could pick and choose how to spend her time. She increased visits to her father, who would pass away in May 2006 at the same hospital where Betsy would eventually spend her last days. Betsy and her father enjoyed attending UNC’s continuing education seminars on the arts and humanities. Betsy’s favorite travel destinations included Solvang, San Francisco, Sausalito, Boston and New Orleans. Whenever possible, she sought out restaurants her father had enjoyed on his visits many years prior. In San Francisco, it was dinner at Julius’ Castle. In Boston, it was lunch at Jacob Wirth.
In retirement, Betsy returned to competitive bridge games organized through the American Contract Bridge League. She re-connected with a network of bridge friends she had known previous immersions into competition. She quickly began accruing points toward her goal of Life Master. Playing primarily in Salisbury and Charlotte, with occasional tournaments in Gatlinburg, Betsy teamed up with her long-time bridge partner Hap Neuffer to compete. Betsy surpassed the ACBL Life Master goal and in 2009 was certified as a Bronze Life Master.
Outside of bridge competition, Betsy completed a training course in conducting oral histories and volunteered for the Concord Historical Society and The Concord Museum. Betsy spent time in Chicago with her daughter’s family. On her Chicago visits, she made reservations at the Brauhaus in Lincoln Square for her favorite German dishes and the chance to dance to the oompah band. On her last visit, she cheered on her children, niece and grandchildren as they danced at the Brauhaus. For granddaughters Caroline and Anna Adair, Betsy recorded herself reading the children’s story “All the Ways I Love You” (by Theresa Trinder), to be presented to the girls upon Betsy’s passing.
Betsy challenged herself with new needlepoint designs and always had two or three projects going at once. She acquired a violin, determined to learn to play an instrument that fascinated her since childhood. Betsy began rescuing dogs, often from area shelters but in one case performing a roadside rescue to bring an injured collie home to heal and live. Betsy encountered the dog in a ditch as she was leaving a bridge game and named the dog Audrey, in honor of the bridge teacher Audrey Grant.
Betsy continued her lifetime commitment personal growth. Betsy coped with chronic disease by focusing on the nurturing relationships in her life and by experimenting with acupuncture, eastern medicine and all types of touch therapy. Over the past decade, Betsy developed a close relationship with Charlotte hypnotherapist Kathryn Shearer. Betsy continued to use hypnosis to treat chronic pain through the final weeks of her life. Caregiver Brenda Morgan provided love and support and enabled Betsy to continue to live at home.
Betsy devoted uncommon energy to decorating the home she and John purchased off of South Union Street, on Hillcrest Avenue. She kept files on every detailed change and upgrade. This particular house had been the home of a childhood of friend of Betsy’s, and it had been a place of refuge after losing her mother when Betsy was 12 years old. In describing how much she wanted to buy this specific house, Betsy told her husband this would be the last house she would ever own. This was a bold prediction, given that Betsy made a hobby of visiting open houses and talking her way into touring homes of interest that were not on the market. In one instance, she won entry to tour a house she had admired since her youth and, in exchange for the access, performed an impromptu seance to identify the ghost of a previous resident and explain to the current homeowners how to adjust a window so as to let the ghost come and go freely. From week to week, Betsy always seemed to point to a new house that would address all of her space requirements. In the end, she always choose to remain on Hillcrest. In one of her last conversations with family, Betsy described her plans to install custom shutters in the downstairs windows.
Finding Joy Everywhere
Betsy was fearless in the pursuit of joy. Whenever she encountered a patch of clover, she would sit down in the grass to hunt for the four-leaf clover that she was convinced was there for her. In New Orleans, Betsy visited a series of the city’s finest restaurants one night, starting with Brennan’s, to sample the bread pudding at each one. Her favorite car was a convertible Toyota she purchased one day in 1988. It was a sunny day in eastern North Carolina, and she stopped by the Toyota dealership in Greenville and made the ragtop an impulse purchase so she could drive it off the lot that day. She kept a collection of music tapes in the car, ranging from classical to outlaw country. She would sing along with Gilbert & Sullivan as easily as David Allan Coe.
As her health failed in recent years, Betsy found a favorite physical therapist, Ashton Harrington, at Atrium Health Cabarrus Rehabilitation. The aquatics were most effective. Betsy looked forward to regular trips to Saluda, Blowing Rock and Chapel Hill. Betsy and John frequently spent her birthday and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in Chapel Hill. From the Carolina Inn, they had easy access to family members in the region and even easier access to Crook’s Corner for Bill Smith’s Hoppin’ John and banana pudding. Crook’s competed with hotel room service for Betsy’s favoring dining experiences.
At one of Betsy’s last nights on the town in Chapel Hill, in summer 2019, she attended a performance at Imbibe where John read selections from his forthcoming novel and Don Dixon performed songs from the album, Lassie James Songbook Vol. I, inspired by the book’s characters. “Do You Like to Slow Dance?” was the song Betsy liked most of all.
Betsy had a love-hate relationship with technology. She opted out of email, nearly completely, and passed away with close to 8,000 unread emails, demonstrating to the world that a well-managed in-box is not the secret to happiness. She used Facebook to keep track of old friends and extended family, and she took extra time to send notes of support to anyone she knew who was suffering. She marveled at the political hostility on social media and enjoyed posting points of view that she knew would stimulate outrage among those she believed to be unhinged. To the end, Betsy preferred personal connections with her friends and family. During the quarantine, when personal contact was not possible, she was fond of weekly Zoom calls with family members.
Betsy was preceded in death by her mother, father and a brother, Marshall Dean Ross, and rescue dogs Louis, Koko, Yum-Yum, Simon, Audrey and Max.
Betsy is survived by following family members:
Husband John and two rescue dogs, Winston and Isadora.
Daughter Elizabeth Warren-Mikes and husband Brian Mikes of Chicago and their daughters, Caroline Elizabeth and Anna Adair
Stepmother Doris Beasley Ross of Black Mountain.
Brother Thomas Lee Ross III and wife Patricia Ross of Blowing Rock and his daughters, Caroline and Hadley
Brother, Leslie Calvin Ross and wife Staci of Fuquay Varina.
Stepsister Rebecca Patten and husband Bill Patten of Concord and their children, William, Adelle and Hannah Ross.
Stepbrother Walter Hannah and wife Susan Hannah of Concord and their children, Laura and Ross.
Half-brother David Ross and wife Katie Ross of Black Mountain.
Half-sister Dr. Laura Ross Loehr and husband Dr. Steven Loehr of Durham and their daughter, Millicent, and son, Carson.
Cousins Caroline Greer of Spartanburg, SC, and George Patterson III of Concord.
In-laws Wayne and Anita Bare of Garner. Amy and Ed Buchan and daughter Leah of Raleigh. Dr. Laura and Dr. Chris Johnsrude of Ben of Prospect, KY, and their children, Sarah and Ben.